Start Up No.983: North Korea hacks Chilean ATMs, Facebook’s face meme, US chases Huawei again, keep that sunscreen!, and more


Japan’s “robot hotel” is laying off robots. Guess what’s taking over. CC-licensed photo by dalai_alana on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. Available for discussions but only with party leaders. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

North Korean hackers infiltrate Chile’s ATM network after Skype job interview • ZDNet

Catalin Cimpanu:

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an investigation conducted by Chilean tech news site trendTIC revealed that the financial firm was the victim of a serious cyber-attack, and not something that could be easily dismissed.

According to reporters, the source of the hack was identified as a LinkedIn ad for a developer position at another company to which one of the Redbanc employees applied.

The hiring company, believed to be a front for the Lazarus Group operators who realized they baited a big fish, approached the Redbanc employee for an interview, which they conducted in Spanish via a Skype call.

trendTIC reports that during this interview, the Redbanc employee was asked to download, install, and run a file named ApplicationPDF.exe, a program that would help with the recruitment process and generate a standard application form.

But according to an analysis of this executable by Vitali Kremez, director of research at Flashpoint, the file downloaded and installed PowerRatankba, a malware strain previously linked to Lazarus Group hacks, according to a Proofpoint report published in December 2017.

The malware, Kremez said, collected information about the Redbanc employee’s work PC and sent it back to a remote server. Collected information included the PC’s username, hardware and OS details, proxy settings, a list of current processes, if the infected host had RPC and SMB open file shares, and the status of its RDP connection.

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North Korea isn’t changing its spots. Still focussed on nuclear weapons and hacking as its two most important strategic strengths. The Lazarus Group was behind the Sony Pictures hack in October 2014, as I wrote in my book Cyber Wars.
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Facebook’s ’10 year challenge’ is just a harmless meme—right? • WIRED

Kate O’Neill wondered about that “my picture side by side ten years apart” meme: could it be a secret attempt to train a facial recognition

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Is it bad that someone could use your Facebook photos to train a facial recognition algorithm? Not necessarily; in a way, it’s inevitable. Still, the broader takeaway here is that we need to approach our interactions with technology mindful of the data we generate and how it can be used at scale. I’ll offer three plausible use cases for facial recognition: one respectable, one mundane, and one risky.

The benign scenario: Facial recognition technology, specifically age progression capability, could help with finding missing kids. Last year police in New Delhi reported tracking down nearly 3,000 missing kids in just four days using facial recognition technology. If the kids had been missing a while, they would likely look a little different from the last known photo of them, so a reliable age progression algorithm could be genuinely helpful here.

Facial recognition’s potential is mostly mundane: Age recognition is probably most useful for targeted advertising. Ad displays that incorporate cameras or sensors and can adapt their messaging for age-group demographics (as well as other visually recognizable characteristics and discernible contexts) will likely be commonplace before very long. That application isn’t very exciting, but stands to make advertising more relevant. But as that data flows downstream and becomes enmeshed with our location tracking, response and purchase behavior, and other signals, it could bring about some genuinely creepy interactions.

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She then goes into more detail about the scenarios. Very interesting.
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Robot hotel loses love for robots • WSJ

Alastair Gale and Takashi Mochizuki:

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The hotel launched with around 80 robots. The initial positive reaction encouraged it to add many more for guests’ entertainment, such as a team of human and dog robot dancers in the lobby.

That’s when problems started to pile up, said the hotel’s general manager, Takeyoshi Oe.

Toshifumi Nakamura, a former hotel guest, recalled that about half the puppy-size lobby dancers appeared to be broken or in need of charging when he visited in mid-2016. Mr. Oe said the hotel increased overtime for the human staff to cope with the additional workload.

Guests became frustrated when the hotel’s robots failed to keep pace with Siri or Alexa. One laggard was the robot assistant in each room named “Churi” because of its tulip-shaped head. The doll-like device can manage simple hello-how-are-you type conversations and adjust room heating and lighting in response to voice commands. But some guests quizzed her in vain about things like the opening time of the nearby theme park.

Atsushi Nishiguchi, a guest at the hotel in 2017, said that after an irate exchange with Churi he decided to phone the hotel reception, only to find there was no phone in the room because the assistant was intended to handle guests’ requests. He used his cellphone to call the main hotel number to reach a human worker.

Mr. Ishikawa, the heavy snorer, said he wasn’t sure how to turn Churi off. “She got a bad reputation,” said Hideo Sawada, president of the travel company that owns the hotel. Churi was among the robots removed.

Similarly, the hotel’s main concierge robot was axed because guests peppered it with questions it couldn’t answer, such as flight schedules and tourist attractions in nearby cities. These days, a human staff member is usually available to answer questions in the lobby.

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Ocean warming is accelerating faster than thought, new research finds • The New York Times

Kendra Pierre-Louis:

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A new analysis, published last Thursday in the journal Science, found that the oceans are heating up 40% faster on average than a United Nations panel estimated five years ago. The researchers also concluded that ocean temperatures have broken records for several straight years.

“2018 is going to be the warmest year on record for the Earth’s oceans,” said Zeke Hausfather, an energy systems analyst at the independent climate research group Berkeley Earth and an author of the study. “As 2017 was the warmest year, and 2016 was the warmest year.”

As the planet has warmed, the oceans have provided a critical buffer. They have slowed the effects of climate change by absorbing 93% of the heat trapped by the greenhouse gases humans pump into the atmosphere.

“If the ocean wasn’t absorbing as much heat, the surface of the land would heat up much faster than it is right now,” said Malin L. Pinsky, an associate professor in the department of ecology, evolution and natural resources at Rutgers University. “In fact, the ocean is saving us from massive warming right now.”

But the surging water temperatures are already killing off marine ecosystems, raising sea levels and making hurricanes more destructive.

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Filed under “things that are more important than Brexit”.
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Did the Wall Street Journal fall for a prank directed at Laura Loomer? • Right Wing Watch

Jared Holt:

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After Loomer’s handcuffing stunt [where she handcuffed herself to Twitter’s HQ after being banned from it for repeated violations], Nathan Bernard and his associates, who say they seek to rile up and expose right-wing figures through a media operation they’ve dubbed “Bernard Media,” got to work devising a prank in which they would pose as a Twitter employee named Brad and seek to convince Loomer that “Brad” could help get her account reinstated.

As the prank wore on and Loomer continued communicating with Bernard and his friends, they devised a plan to see how hard it would be to play off her anti-Muslim attitudes and convince her that Muslim groups were directly responsible for her suspension. Since December, Bernard and his friends exchanged hundreds of text messages with Loomer and spoke with her on the phone for nearly a half-hour, a conversation in which they offered deadpan confirmations of all conspiracy theories Loomer suggested to them about Muslim groups’ responsibility for her suspension.

They even sent her a fabricated appointment calendar they said showed Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s schedule, and it included a notation for a meeting with CAIR on a date just days before Loomer’s suspension from the platform.

When the Wall Street Journal published a story last week in which reporters repeated Loomer’s claims about what she said was CAIR’s role in her Twitter suspension, Bernard and his associates shared details of their prank with Right Wing Watch.

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I really hope these guys don’t try this again. They’ll never pull it back: Loomer will insist till the moon dissolves that it was true – for example that she was getting similar stuff from *other* sources – and the WSJ reporters aren’t going to retract easily. And even if they do, the crazy right-wing sites such as Breitbart will never retract it. That’s a win for Loomer. Thanks, pranksters.
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Apple talking to private Medicare plans about subsidizing Apple Watch • CNBC

Christina Farr:

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Apple has been in talks with at least three private Medicare plans about subsidizing the Apple Watch for people over 65 to use as a health tracker, according to people familiar with the discussions.

The insurers are exploring ways to subsidize the cost of the device for those who can’t afford the $279 price tag, which is the starting cost of an older model. The latest version of the device, which includes the most extensive health features including fall detection and an electrocardiogram to measure the heart’s rhythm, retails for a minimum of $399, which many seniors could benefit from but can’t afford.

The talks have not resulted in any official deals just yet, the people said. Apple has paid a visit to several of the largest insurers in the market, as well as some smaller, venture-backed Medicare Advantage plans…

…Health experts say that seniors are an ideal market for the Apple Watch, which has introduced features that can be used by anyone, but are most beneficial to seniors, including fall detection and cardiac arrhythmia monitoring. It also makes sense as a business model for insurers, as seniors are a particularly lucrative market.

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Some VCs suggested to Business Insider that appealing to an older demographic would “tarnish [Apple’s] cool, fashion-adjacent image”. Somehow, I don’t think so.
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United Neuroscience’s Alzheimer vaccine just might work • Bloomberg

Ashlee Vance:

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United Neuroscience Inc. hasn’t solved Alzheimer’s yet, nor has it claimed to. But previously unreported results from a small, recent United clinical trial show that 96% of patients responded, without serious side effects, to the Alzheimer’s vaccine the company calls UB-311. The patients demonstrated improved brain function and showed a reduction in the protein plaque gumming up their neurons, the company’s report says. “We are doing better than the placebo on all these things,” says chief executive officer Mei Mei Hu. “We can’t make any claims yet, but we’re pointing in all the right directions.”

While scientists aren’t sure what causes or exacerbates Alzheimer’s, there are several prime suspects: amyloid, a group of proteins that build up in the body over time and clump together in ways that wreak havoc on the brain; tau, another family of proteins with similar issues; and inflammation in general. United’s vaccine stimulates the patient’s own immune system to attack amyloid, which some researchers believe to be the leading cause. The vaccine’s job is to slow the proteins’ clumping and, if possible, reverse some damage and restore brain function.

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Promising; this is a phase 2 trial, so the next move if this is confirmed would be phase 3 – full human testing. After that, it would aim to get on the market, if it can be shown to work.
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Federal prosecutors pursuing criminal case against Huawei for alleged theft of trade secrets • WSJ

Dan Strumpf, Nicole Hong and Aruna Viswanatha:

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Federal prosecutors are pursuing a criminal investigation of China’s Huawei Technologies Co. for allegedly stealing trade secrets from U.S. business partners, including the technology behind a robotic device that T-Mobile US Inc. used to test smartphones, according to people familiar with the matter.

The investigation grew in part out of civil lawsuits against Huawei, including one in which a Seattle jury found Huawei liable for misappropriating robotic technology from T-Mobile’s Bellevue, Wash., lab, the people familiar with the matter said. The probe is at an advanced stage and could lead to an indictment soon, they said.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.

A Huawei spokesman declined to comment. The company contested the T-Mobile case, but conceded that two employees acted improperly.

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US feds starting the year as they mean to go on: by finding old civil cases and seeing whether they can hang a criminal case around it.
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Don’t abandon sunscreen just yet • Slate

Shannon Palus, following up on that surprising story (linked earlier this week) which suggested that we shouldn’t use sunscreen because it could lead to vitamin D deficiency:

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even sunscreen-adherents end up spending a non-negligible amount of their time outdoors uncovered, allowing Vitamin D in. And the amount of sun exposure you need to get Vitamin D is actually pretty minimal: experts advocating sun exposure as the best way to absorb the vitamin say that you should spend on the order of 10 to 30 minutes three times a week with your arms and legs exposed during midday in the summer for ideal exposure (it’s impossible to give an exact amount, as that will vary by location and skin tone, and yes, as Jacobson notes, it seems possible this recommendation is geared toward light-skinned folks). But even considering that a low estimate, it’s an extremely easy level of exposure if you’re spending a day outside—even if you wear sunscreen.

Jacobson takes pains throughout his piece to acknowledge that his thesis is supported by a new, small line of research that is regarded with skepticism within the dermatology community, which is all the more reason not to take the piece as advice on how to live your daily life, at least not yet. But it’s not clear that some of the main pieces of evidence for this rogue take are even correct. For example, he strangely evokes the health of “our ancestors” who “lived outdoors in tropical regions and ran around half naked” without noting the improvements in lifespan since, despite that being an incredibly relevant factor to cancer incidence.

Jacobson’s article does contain an important truth: Sunscreen isn’t a one-size-fits-all prescription.
Some of the more rigorous research seems like weak support, too.

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I’m glad this article appeared, because an Overspill reader with a lot of expertise in this subject (who doesn’t want to be identified, but pointed me to this) had suggested that the original might be overstating the case. “Having been a melanoma researcher, I wear sunscreen every day,” in their words. So, your decision. But the scientists aren’t moved at present.
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2018 E-scooter findings report • The City of Portland, Oregon

Portland obliged scooter companies to share data with it during a trial period:

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Tens of thousands of Portlanders and visitors alike enthusiastically embraced scooters. During the four-month period, people took 700,369 trips covering 801,887 miles on 2,043 e-scooters. Trip data analysis and survey data revealed more about ridership trends:

A majority of Portlanders viewed e-scooters positively. In a representative citywide poll by DHM Research, 62% of all Portlanders viewed e-scooters positively at the end of the pilot. Support was even higher among Portlanders under 35 (71%), from people of color (74 percent), and those with incomes below $30,000 (66%).

Portlanders primarily used e-scooters for transportation. 71% of Portlanders reported that they most frequently used e-scooters to get to a destination, while only a third of respondents (28.6%) said they most frequently used e-scooters for recreation or exercise. 

E-scooters replaced driving and ride-hailing trips. 34% of Portland riders and 48% of visitors took an e-scooter instead of driving a personal car or using Uber, Lyft, or taxi.

E-scooter users preferred riding on low-speed streets and in bike lanes. Many of the highest utilized streets were part of Portland’s bikeway network. Staff observations also found lower rates of sidewalk riding on low-speed streets or those with dedicated space for non-motorized users. Users ranked bike lanes as their preferred road type, and sidewalks last.

E-scooters attracted new people to active transportation. 74% of local users reported never riding BIKETOWN and 42% never bicycling.

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Then there’s the bit about injuries. That’s worth reading. As is the NY Times piece on the analysis.
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SEC brings charges in Edgar hacking case • Securities and Exchange Commission

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The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced charges against nine defendants for participating in a previously disclosed scheme to hack into the SEC’s EDGAR system [for distributing price-sensitive news and other data] and extract nonpublic information to use for illegal trading. The SEC charged a Ukrainian hacker, six individual traders in California, Ukraine, and Russia, and two entities. The hacker and some of the traders were also involved in a similar scheme to hack into newswire services and trade on information that had not yet been released to the public. The SEC charged the hacker and other traders for that conduct in 2015 (see here, here and here).

The SEC’s complaint alleges that after hacking the newswire services, Ukrainian hacker Oleksandr Ieremenko turned his attention to EDGAR and, using deceptive hacking techniques, gained access in 2016. Ieremenko extracted EDGAR files containing nonpublic earnings results. The information was passed to individuals who used it to trade in the narrow window between when the files were extracted from SEC systems and when the companies released the information to the public. In total, the traders traded before at least 157 earnings releases from May to October 2016 and generated at least $4.1m in illegal profits.

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Now *that’s* audacious.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: Philip writes: “The last line of today’s [now yesterday’s] Overspill has the first double meaning emoticon (pun?) I’ve ever seen. Very very clever.” Thanks. We’ve promoted the intern.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

Start Up No.982: the insect dieoff, Brave’s browser gamble, GMO v Dunning-Kruger, the CES lowdown, Wikipedia is 18!, and more


CC-licensedLet’s celebrate Brexit by stockpiling! photo by Coffee Danube Still Life Photography on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. That’s democracy for ya. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Insect collapse: ‘We are destroying our life support systems’ • The Guardian

Damian Carrington:

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“We knew that something was amiss in the first couple days,” said Brad Lister. “We were driving into the forest and at the same time both Andres and I said: ‘Where are all the birds?’ There was nothing.”

His return to the Luquillo rainforest in Puerto Rico after 35 years was to reveal an appalling discovery. The insect population that once provided plentiful food for birds throughout the mountainous national park had collapsed. On the ground, 98% had gone. Up in the leafy canopy, 80% had vanished. The most likely culprit by far is global warming.

“It was just astonishing,” Lister said. “Before, both the sticky ground plates and canopy plates would be covered with insects. You’d be there for hours picking them off the plates at night. But now the plates would come down after 12 hours in the tropical forest with a couple of lonely insects trapped or none at all.”

“It was a true collapse of the insect populations in that rainforest,” he said. “We began to realise this is terrible – a very, very disturbing result.”

…Since Lister’s first visits to Luquillo, other scientists had predicted that tropical insects, having evolved in a very stable climate, would be much more sensitive to climate warming. “If you go a little bit past the thermal optimum for tropical insects, their fitness just plummets,” he said.

As the data came in, the predictions were confirmed in startling fashion. “The number of hot spells, temperatures above 29C, have increased tremendously,” he said. “It went from zero in the 1970s up to something like 44% of the days.” Factors important elsewhere in the world, such as destruction of habitat and pesticide use, could not explain the plummeting insect populations in Luquillo, which has long been a protected area.

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You think Brexit (or Trump) is bad? The collapse of the insect population is far worse. This is an emergency.
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‘I don’t trust the government to look after me or my dog’: meet the Brexit stockpilers • The Guardian

Sam Wollaston:

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In Cambridge, Diane says she is also stockpiling, though she doesn’t want to go into too much detail. “I’m a bit cautious about being presented as an idiot who has a cupboard full of stuff,” she says. She’s OK about using her surname, though: she is Diane Coyle, OBE, FACSS, the economist, Bennett professor of public policy at the University of Cambridge, former adviser to the Treasury, vice-chair of the BBC Trust, member of the Competition Commission, winner of the Indigo prize … in short, really not an idiot.

“The point about supply chains,” she explains, “is that the things you buy in the supermarket today were on the road last night. Supermarkets now don’t have warehouses full of stuff. If we have a no deal and the delays go up even by 12 hours – although I see there’s a new report saying it is going to be much more – then things will stop being put on the shelves. They will run out. And it’s not just stuff we buy from the EU, and it’s not just fresh produce – it’s quite a lot of things.”

Coyle knows that she can’t get by without a cuppa and doesn’t want to run out of teabags or coffee because she didn’t get any in before a no-deal exit. “It’s things that matter to me, that we import, and it’s a bit of insurance.”

…Does she really expect empty shelves this time? “I don’t know – it’s completely uncertain. There are serious people saying the chances of a no-deal exit are significant. And even if they are only 10%, and it’s 90% we’ll have a deal, why would you not have that extra bit of insurance? It’s perfectly sensible.”

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Written before Tuesday’s vote, but everyone – literally everyone – knew that Tuesday’s vote would go against May.

If Diane Coyle thinks it’s an issue… that’s concerning. (She’s married to Rory Cellan-Jones, the BBC’s technology correspondent, a former industrial correspondent, who also knows this stuff.)
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Brave browser will pay you to view ads that respect your privacy • CNet

Stephen Shankland:

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ads and ad trackers take their toll on computing power, battery life and network usage. And then some ads are just plain bad. About one in 200 ads is a form of malware, and more than one in 100 video ads is fraudulent, according to December report from security company Confiant.

Sure, we could pay our way to a healthier internet. Spending money on paywalls and subscriptions is a great way to get online video, news and music without ads’ downsides. But honestly, how many services are you going to pay for on top of your phone bill, broadband, Netflix, HBO Now, Spotify and Amazon Prime? We don’t generally bristle at ads in magazines and newspapers, and some of us even tune into the Super Bowl to watch them.

The first phase of Brave’s ad system won’t actually pay anybody anything, but instead will just get the system on its feet. Actual payments are scheduled to arrive in several weeks with the release of Brave 1.0. When it kicks in, you’ll get 70% of the ad revenue. Brave collects the rest. A slider will let you pick how many ads to see each day, from one to 20. Just seeing an ad generates a bit of revenue, but clicking on it generates more.

It’s an opt-in system. So unless you enable it, you’ll just keep getting the regular ad-blocking Brave.

“If enough opt in, that could become the main revenue of the company,” Eich said, adding that he thinks it’s possible that 40% of users could sign up.

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Publishers are furious about this, and you can see why: it’s adblocking and then Brave inserts its own ads. Where’s the money for the publishers who provide the content? Meanwhile, Brave will track you, just like all the other ad systems, to serve you “relevant” ads.

But I also think Eich’s hope for 40% signing up is wildly optimistic because it’s going to be done with cryptocurrency. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
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Canadian startup North made Alexa smart glasses that actually look like glasses • WIRED

Lauren Goode:

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Focals run on the company’s custom software, built on top of Android. The software interface is simple, almost primitive, in its early stages. Download the Focals app and pair it with your glasses to see the weather, receive and respond to text messages, view your calendar appointments, and call an Uber. Another feature, called Go, relies on databases from Mapbox and Foursquare to either guide you to a specific location, or create a walking experience based on nearby points of interest. You navigate all of this by nudging and pressing on the tiny joystick on the ring.

You can also use Alexa. Long-pressing on the joystick summons Alexa, which hears your voice commands and responds to you through the glasses. The speaker and microphone are built into the right arm of the Focals, along with a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor. You can ask Alexa on Focals to do nearly anything that the virtual assistant can do on another Alexa-equipped devices, except it won’t play long strings of audio, and it won’t show you videos.

My second experience trying on Focals was dramatically different from the first. The glasses still weren’t custom-fit to my face, so I sometimes felt cross-eyed while I tried to focus on the floating interface. And as much as North refers to the light reflection as a hologram, there isn’t any volume or depth to the image being projected into your eye. It’s a flat image, one that lands somewhere between the chin and the shoulder of a person you might be talking to.

But I started to get a better sense of what North hopes to accomplish with these anti-smart-glasses glasses.

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Iterate, iterate, iterate. Some year soon it’s going to be right.
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Consumerism in crisis as millennials stay away from shops • The Conversation

Brendan Canavan is senior lecturer in marketing at the University of Huddersfield:

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Consumer studies academics have been picking up on changing habits for a number of years. This includes an increased ambivalence towards consumption itself: people are buying less often and less overall. This is particularly true in the clothing industry, where research shows that millenials are especially unforthcoming – even after you factor in the shift to online retail. A lack of bricks and mortar did not, for instance, prevent online fashion retailer Asos from shocking the City with a profit warning shortly before Christmas.

The American car industry is another harbinger of generational change: sales are stalling because younger people seem less interested in ownership. The average age of a new car buyer in the US was 50 in 2015. Or to give one more example, witness Apple’s recent trading problems. People are not only opting for cheaper smartphones, but they are keeping them for longer. If the world’s first company to pass the trillion dollar value mark is showing signs of struggling, we ought to take note.

Some of this shift in consumption may be ideological. Researchers have suggested that environmental concerns might be pushing some people to consume less. Economic drivers are also probably involved. Since the 2008 financial crash, for instance, alternative consumer communities have emerged. They are more collaborative and self-sufficient; doing things among themselves rather than buying in from outside. The rise of the swapping movement is a good example.

Yet more broadly, lifestyle changes are seeing us moving away from the consumer model which has dominated post-war capitalist economies. Buying more and more things as a source of identity and meaning seems to be gradually but consistently falling out of favour.

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Huddersfield is one of the places where retail outlets are closing. Not even students are taking part.
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DuckDuckGo taps Apple Maps to power private search results • Spread Privacy

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We’re excited to announce that map and address-related searches on DuckDuckGo for mobile and desktop are now powered by Apple’s MapKit JS framework, giving you a valuable combination of mapping and privacy. As one of the first global companies using Apple MapKit JS, we can now offer users improved address searches, additional visual features, enhanced satellite imagery, and continually updated maps already in use on billions of Apple devices worldwide.

With this updated integration, Apple Maps are now available both embedded within our private search results for relevant queries, as well as available from the “Maps” tab on any search result page.

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DDG is still miniscule compared to Google, but it’s profitable and not going away any time soon. This is a clever way to enhance its “privacy” story.
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CES 2019: a show report • Learning By Shipping

Steve Sinofsky tramped around so you don’t have to:

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There are three big developments that are enabling the vast majority of scenarios on display at CES 2019:

Any screen/speaker can play any streaming media. Whether via casting or cross-platform runtimes, any device can now connect to a streaming audio or video service and display or play content. The hardest problem of the 2000s was actually getting a signal from one place to another — video over CAT5, whole house audio, or craziness like wireless HDMI were all precursors to the wifi/cloud/processor based streaming we experience today. By the way, it is just as amazing that everything being said applies as much to a house as it does to a moving car!

Any device can be turned on/off/controlled by voice. Seemingly out of nowhere, everything can be controlled by shouting at it. Our homes can now be populated by a whole new family of digital friends Alexa, Siri, Bixby, and OK Google [sic]. Again, it was just a few years ago that every single device had a different way, if any way at all, to control it from another part of the house. By the way, it is just as amazing that everything being said applies as much to controlling within a home as it does to controlling from the other side of the earth. Plus these virtual assistants can be helpful in all sorts of other ways.

Any device can have a radio and connect to any other device with a radio. Every device is now a radio. Radios can be WiFi, GSM, or Bluetooth. The ability to have a radio and power it has become so cost and energy efficient, one can hardly find anything that doesn’t have a radio in it. Even the cheapest TV remote controls are now RF solving one of the most annoying problems of the 1990s which was how to avoid “displaying” all your AV gear (gear which no longer exists). By the way, it is just as amazing that everything being said applies to devices plugged into a wall as it does to devices that just sit there waiting to come to life and connect when needed. It wasn’t that long ago that a home alarm system required running wires from every door and window to power those sensors which are now powered by coin-batteries for years at a time.

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Happy 18th birthday, Wikipedia: let’s celebrate the Internet’s good grownup • The Washington Post

Stephen Harrison:

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YouTube Chief Executive Susan Wojcicki announced a plan last March to pair misleading conspiracy videos with links to corresponding articles from Wikipedia. Facebook has also released a feature using Wikipedia’s content to provide users more information about the publication source for articles in their feed.

Wikipedia’s rise is driven by a crucial difference in values that separates it from its peers in the top 10 websites: On Wikipedia, truth trumps self-expression.

Last year, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales told NPR that Wikipedia has largely avoided the “fake news” problem, raising the question of what the encyclopedia does differently than other popular websites. As Brian Feldman suggested in New York magazine, perhaps it’s simply the willingness within the Wikipedia community to delete. If a user posts bad information on Wikipedia, other users are authorized and empowered to remove that unencyclopedic content. It’s a striking contrast to Twitter, which allows lies and inflammatory statements to remain on its platform for years.

The Wikipedia community has also embraced automated technologies to protect the integrity of the encyclopedia. While YouTube scans videos for potential content violations using its Content ID database, the community of Wikipedia editors have created editing bots that go further by making determinations about content quality.

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This is the thing that makes Wikipedia so necessary today.
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Feds can’t force you to unlock your iPhone with finger or face, judge rules • Forbes

Thomas Brewster

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Previously, US judges had ruled that police were allowed to force unlock devices like Apple’s iPhone with biometrics, such as fingerprints, faces or irises. That was despite the fact feds weren’t permitted to force a suspect to divulge a passcode. But according to a ruling uncovered by Forbes, all logins are equal.

The order came from the US District Court for the Northern District of California in the denial of a search warrant for an unspecified property in Oakland. The warrant was filed as part of an investigation into a Facebook extortion crime, in which a victim was asked to pay up or have an “embarassing” video of them publicly released. The cops had some suspects in mind and wanted to raid their property. In doing so, the feds also wanted to open up any phone on the premises via facial recognition, a fingerprint or an iris.

While the judge agreed that investigators had shown probable cause to search the property, they didn’t have the right to open all devices inside by forcing unlocks with biometric features.

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This is going to lead to all sorts of negative publicity around cases very much like this one. Imagine if there’s a terror incident.
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Strongest opponents of GM foods know the least but think they know the most • The Guardian

Ian Sample:

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The most extreme opponents of genetically modified foods know the least about science but believe they know the most, researchers have found.

The findings from public surveys in the US, France and Germany suggest that rather than being a barrier to the possession of strongly held views, ignorance of the matter at hand might better be described as a fuel.

“This is part and parcel of the psychology of extremism,” said Philip Fernbach, a researcher at the University of Colorado and co-author of the 2017 book The Knowledge Illusion. “To maintain these strong counter-scientific consensus views, you kind of have to have a lack of knowledge.”

Fernbach and others analysed surveys completed by nationally representative samples of the US, French and German public. Those who took part were asked about their attitudes to GM foods and given instructions on how to judge their understanding of the topic. Next, they completed a scientific literacy test. Among the statements the participants had to wrestle with were: “Ordinary tomatoes do not have genes, whereas genetically modified tomatoes do” (false), and “the oxygen we breathe comes from plants” (true).

The results from more than 2,500 respondents revealed the curious trend. “What we found is that as the extremity of opposition increased, objective knowledge went down, but self-assessed knowledge went up,” Fernbach said.

«

When I was writing a lot about GM foods, about 20 years ago, it was noticeable that many of the arguments against them came from emotion. (There are some legitimate arguments against GM, around intellectual property on seeds.) But I suspect this result could be generalised; it’s something of a Dunning-Kruger corollary.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: there was a missing right bracket in yesterday’s issue. Please insert this one where it seems to fit: )

Start Up No.981: hot v cool v Trump v AOC, AI v Alzheimer’s, the oven that knows what it’s cooking, Firefox kills Flash, and more


Recognise this place? Its average internet speed is faster than France, Canada or the UK. CC-licensed photo by mariusz kluzniak on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 9 links for you. Still here? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Hot Trump. Cool @aoc • Medium

Jeff Jarvis:

»

I’ve been rereading a lot of Marshall McLuhan lately and I’m as confounded as ever by his conception of “hot” vs. “cool” media. And so I decided to try to test my thinking by comparing the phenomena of Donald Trump and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at this millennial media wendepunkt, as text and television give way to the net and whatever it becomes. I’ll also try to address the question: Why is @aoc driving the GOP mad?

…As TV became hotter [in McLuhan terms] — as it became high-definition — it found its man in Trump, who is as hot and unsubtle as a thermonuclear blast. Trump burns himself out with every appearance before crowds and cameras, never able to go far enough past his last performance — and it is a performance — to find a destination. He is destruction personified and that’s why he won, because his voters and believers yearn to destroy the institutions they do not trust, which is every institution we have today. Trump then represents the destruction of television itself. He’s so hot, he blew it up, ruining it for any candidate to follow, who cannot possibly top him on it. Kennedy was the first cool television politician. Obama was the last cool TV politician. Trump is the hot politician, the one who then took the medium’s every weakness and nuked it. TV amused itself to death.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was not a candidate of television or radio or text because media — that is, journalists — completely missed her presence and success, didn’t cover her, and had to trip over each other to discover her long after voters had. How did voters discover her? How did she succeed? Social media: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube….

I think McLuhan’s analysis here would be straightforward: Social media are cool [media forms]. Twitter in particular is cool because it provides such low-fidelity and requires the world to fill in so much, not only in interpretation and empathy but also in distribution (sharing). And Ocasio-Cortez herself is cool in every definition.

…Yes, she shoots at her opponents, but like a sniper, always from her position, her platform.

«

I found this a fascinating analysis. Like Jeff, I’ve tried for years to comprehend McLuhan’s declensions; this one makes it understandable. And I love the “sniper” line.
link to this extract


Artificial intelligence can detect Alzheimer’s disease in brain scans six years before a diagnosis • UC San Francisco

Dana Smith:

»

glucose PET scans are much more common and cheaper, especially in smaller health care facilities and developing countries, because they’re also used for cancer staging.

Radiologists have used these scans to try to detect Alzheimer’s by looking for reduced glucose levels across the brain, especially in the frontal and parietal lobes of the brain. However, because the disease is a slow progressive disorder, the changes in glucose are very subtle and so difficult to spot with the naked eye.

To solve this problem, Sohn applied a machine learning algorithm to PET scans to help diagnose early-stage Alzheimer’s disease more reliably.

“This is an ideal application of deep learning because it is particularly strong at finding very subtle but diffuse processes. Human radiologists are really strong at identifying tiny focal finding like a brain tumor, but we struggle at detecting more slow, global changes,” says Sohn. “Given the strength of deep learning in this type of application, especially compared to humans, it seemed like a natural application.”

To train the algorithm, Sohn fed it images from the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI), a massive public dataset of PET scans from patients who were eventually diagnosed with either Alzheimer’s disease, mild cognitive impairment or no disorder. Eventually, the algorithm began to learn on its own which features are important for predicting the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and which are not.

…The algorithm performed with flying colors. It correctly identified 92% of patients who developed Alzheimer’s disease in the first test set and 98% in the second test set. What’s more, it made these correct predictions on average 75.8 months – a little more than six years – before the patient received their final diagnosis.

«

Slightly scary. What do you do with a diagnosis like that?
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Whirlpool WLabs oven can detect your food and cook it properly • CNBC

Todd Haselton:

»

A new countertop oven from Whirlpool’s WLabs can automatically detect the food you put in it, and cook it for the right time. It takes all of the guesswork out of cooking.

The oven was on display at CES last week where CNBC had a chance to see how it works. I tried to insert a bunch of fake asparagus in one demo and, in another, a tray of salmon. Sensors inside the oven were able to determine what I was trying to cook, and then proposed the right amount of cook time and temperature.

This is different than Amazon’s microwave, which knows how long to microwave certain foods, but can’t automatically detect what you’ve placed inside.

The oven can identify 50 different types of food using infrared sensors in the oven. For meat, a user inserts a probe into the filet so that the oven can cook it to your liking.

«

Only $800! Why do it?
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Stop the presses: How a new publishing platform can help local news • Google blog

Jim Albrecht, product management director of search:

»

Shouldn’t doing great editorial work be enough?

We think so, and that’s why the Google News Initiative has partnered with Automattic/WordPress and invested $1.2m in its effort to create Newspack: a fast, secure, low-cost publishing system tailor-made to the needs of small newsrooms. Other funders include the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Civil Media collectively contributing another $1m.

Journalists should be writing stories and covering their communities, not worrying about  designing websites, configuring CMSs, or building commerce systems. Their publishing platform should solve these problems for them. So while Newspack publishers will have access to all the plugins created by the WordPress developer community, the core product is not trying to be all things to all publishers. It is trying to help small publishers succeed by building best practices into the product while removing distractions that may divert scarce resources. We like to call it “an opinionated CMS:” it knows the right thing to do, even when you don’t.

«

Good that it’s built on WordPress – but will it get the security updates that WordPress gets? Will Google try to inveigle itself in, by doing updates?
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Mozilla kills default support for Adobe Flash in Firefox 69 • Threatpost

Lindsay O’Donnell:

»

Firefox 69 will force users to manually install Adobe Flash as the plugin inches toward end of life.

Mozilla is disabling default support for Adobe’s Flash Player plugin in the latest upcoming version of its FireFox browser, marking the latest step in end-of-life for the infamous plugin.

The disabled default support means that Firefox users will now be required to manually enable Adobe Flash in Mozilla’s latest browser version, Firefox 69. More importantly, the change signals another step toward the end of Flash in general, as Mozilla and other popular browsers push the plugin off the radar.

«

Only 3.9% of sites use Flash now, compared to 28.5% in 2011. (Guessing that a big part of that fall is the rise in sites configured for mobile – where Flash isn’t installed.
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Fortnite skins are key to the future of global trade • Bloomberg

Shawn Donnan:

»

Discussions about globalization—and its costs and benefits—often focus on physical goods such as steel beams, cars, or soybeans. The reality is that the integration of economies is increasingly a digital one that happens in invisible daily bursts—like the sessions in which far-flung armies of Fortnite players face off against each other on an imaginary island. “The digital economy is everywhere, and much of it is international without our even knowing it,” says Anupam Chander, a law professor and expert on digital trade at Georgetown University.

If we don’t always fully appreciate the scale of what’s going on, it’s because much of digital trade is not being captured in official statistics, says Susan Lund of the McKinsey Global Institute, the consultant’s in-house think tank. In a report, Lund and her co-authors documented an explosion in global data flows that they argued generated $2.8 trillion in economic output in 2014 alone and was doing more to benefit the world economy than the stalling international trade in physical goods.

In some cases, the World Trade Organization pointed out in a report last year, the rapid propagation of digital technologies has contributed to a false picture of globalization in retreat as shipping containers filled with hardcovers and DVDs are replaced by e-book downloads and streaming music.

«

I seem to recall that much the same was said about Second Life, and then World of Warcraft, and then EVE Online, but the general point is true – digital globalisation is changing things.
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Only nuclear energy can save the planet • WSJ

Joshua Goldstein and Staffan Qvist:

»

the consumption of fossil fuels is growing quickly as poorer countries climb out of poverty and increase their energy use. Improving energy efficiency can reduce some of the burden, but it’s not nearly enough to offset growing demand.

Any serious effort to decarbonize the world economy will require, then, a great deal more clean energy, on the order of 100 trillion kilowatt-hours per year, by our calculations—roughly equivalent to today’s entire annual fossil-fuel usage. A key variable is speed. To reach the target within three decades, the world would have to add about 3.3 trillion more kilowatt-hours of clean energy every year.

Solar and wind power alone can’t scale up fast enough to generate the vast amounts of electricity that will be needed by midcentury, especially as we convert car engines and the like from fossil fuels to carbon-free energy sources. Even Germany’s concerted recent effort to add renewables—the most ambitious national effort so far—was nowhere near fast enough. A global increase in renewables at a rate matching Germany’s peak success would add about 0.7 trillion kilowatt-hours of clean electricity every year. That’s just over a fifth of the necessary 3.3 trillion annual target.

…So why isn’t everyone who is concerned about climate change getting behind nuclear power? Why isn’t the nuclear power industry in the U.S. and the world expanding to meet the rising demand for clean electricity? The key reason is that most countries’ policies are shaped not by hard facts but by long-standing and widely shared phobias about radiation.

«

There’s one other point: they’re pretty slow to build. But it’s true. We need more of them.
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A first look at Twitter’s new beta app and its bid to remain ‘valuable and relevant’ • TechCrunch

Sarah Perez and Ingrid Lunden:

»

During the first beta, participants will try out new conversation features which offer color-coded replies to differentiate between responses from the original poster of the tweet, those from people you follow, and those from people you don’t follow.

In a development build of the beta app, Haider showed us what this looked like, with the caveat that the color scheme being used has been intentionally made to be overly saturated – it will be dialed down when the features launch to testers.

When you click into a conversation thread, the beta app will also offer visual cues to help you better find the parts of the thread that are of interest to you.

One way it’s doing so is by highlighting the replies in a thread that were written by people you follow on Twitter. Another change is that the person who posted the original tweet will also have their own replies in the thread highlighted.

In the build Haider showed us, replies from people she followed were shown in green, those from non-followers were blue, and her own replies were blue.

«

May also get rid of likes (maybe) and add a “status” field such as availability, location, whether you’re online “as on IM”, says the story – perhaps oblivious to the fact that Twitter was started with the intent of being an SMS equivalent of the IM status field.
link to this extract


Madagascar’s fast internet fuels outsourcing boom • Quartz Africa

»

There are now 233 BPO [business process outsourcing] companies in Madagascar (up from just a handful in 2005, mostly in the capital Antananarivo, employing between 10,000 and 15,000 people (Morocco, the market leader, has 70,000). The reasons companies are flocking to Madagascar is a combination of cost and quality.

With salaries starting at $130 a month (nearly three times the minimum wage) Lalatiana Le Goff, director general at Vivetic, the oldest BPO operator in Madagascar and one of the largest with 1,400 employees, says that Madagascar is 50% cheaper than Morocco with similar levels of quality. “The Malagasies are diligent and have a real desire to learn,” she says. They also have a natural empathy, which, combined with the right training, makes them perfectly suited to handle disgruntled customers.

Then there is the language. The level of French is very good, and customers appreciate Malagasy French. “The tone is softer and slower [than in the Maghreb]; some people have an accent but it’s mild and hard to place,” says Ludovic d’Alançon, chief operating officer at Outsourcia, a Moroccan BPO company that acquired two companies in Madagascar in 2016, which employ 550 people. The time difference is also minimal (one hour in summer, two in winter).

What transformed the sector from data processing niche to stellar digital player however is the arrival of cable internet connection in 2009. Madagascar now boasts the fastest internet speed in Africa (faster even than many developed countries), a pre-requisite for good quality calls and real-time services. Since then, the number of companies has steadily grown.

«

“They also have a natural empathy”? Is this a weird way of saying “despite where they live, they’re human”? Anyway, a good demonstration of how important internet speed is: Madagascar’s average broadband speed is 24.9MB/s, well above Canada, France and the soon-to-need-plenty-of-foreign-income UK.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.980: the vitamin D myth, how smart TVs pay, Brexit’s paranoid fantasy, where Apple stumbled, and more

Norma Jean Baker working in a US armaments factory, 1944
Norma Jean Dougherty, as she then was, working on a drone (really) in 1944. Haven’t got it? Put it this way: she isn’t winding a candle. Now we have some different AirPower to expect. Get it?

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 14 links for you. We’ve got a lot of things to get through today, so let’s get started. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg news: searching on YouTube lands conspiracy theories instead • The Washington Post

Tony Romm and Drew Harwell:

»

Conspiracy theories about the health of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg have dominated YouTube this week, illustrating how the world’s most popular video site is failing to prevent its algorithm from helping popularize viral hoaxes and misinformation.

More than half of the top 20 search results for her initials, “RBG,” on Wednesday pointed to false far-right videos, some claiming doctors are using mysterious illegal drugs to keep her alive, according to a review by The Washington Post. Ginsburg has been absent from oral arguments at the Supreme Court this week as she recuperates from recent surgery to remove cancer from her lungs. Tests revealed Friday that she will need no further treatment and that her recovery is on track.

The falsehoods, most of which originated with the fringe movement QAnon, dramatically outnumbered results from credible news sources. Only one of the top results came from a mainstream news site, CNN, and it was an 11-month-old interview about her career. The algorithm rewarded the conspiracy videos over reliable news based on what it calculated was their “relevance,” signaling that the videos were probably new, popular or suitable to the search. By Thursday, a day after YouTube was contacted by The Washington Post, searches for “RBG” also surfaced multiple videos from mainstream news organizations.

«

Yes I’m afraid 2019 is off to a flying start. Welcome back.
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Is sunscreen the new margarine? • Outside Online

Rowan Jacobsen:

»

In November, one of the largest and most rigorous trials of [Vitamin D supplements] ever conducted—in which 25,871 participants received high doses for five years—found no impact on cancer, heart disease, or stroke.

How did we get it so wrong? How could people with low vitamin D levels clearly suffer higher rates of so many diseases and yet not be helped by supplementation?

As it turns out, a rogue band of researchers has had an explanation all along. And if they’re right, it means that once again we have been epically misled.

These rebels argue that what made the people with high vitamin D levels so healthy was not the vitamin itself. That was just a marker. Their vitamin D levels were high because they were getting plenty of exposure to the thing that was really responsible for their good health—that big orange ball shining down from above.

One of the leaders of this rebellion is a mild-mannered dermatologist at the University of Edinburgh named Richard Weller. For years, Weller swallowed the party line about the destructive nature of the sun’s rays. “I’m not by nature a rebel,” he insisted when I called him up this fall. “I was always the good boy that toed the line at school. This pathway is one which came from following the data rather than a desire to overturn apple carts.”

Weller’s doubts began around 2010, when he was researching nitric oxide, a molecule produced in the body that dilates blood vessels and lowers blood pressure. He discovered a previously unknown biological pathway by which the skin uses sunlight to make nitric oxide.

It was already well established that rates of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and overall mortality all rise the farther you get from the sunny equator, and they all rise in the darker months. Weller put two and two together and had what he calls his “eureka moment”: Could exposing skin to sunlight lower blood pressure?

«

Sounds bonkers but: uh-huh.

link to this extract


Common questions about environmentally-lit interfaces • Bob Burrough

Burrough used to work at Apple, where he was closely involved in developing the iPhone and iPad:

»

An environmentally-lit interface takes information from the environment around the device and uses it to render physically-accurate things on the screen. It appears as if the lights around you are shining on the things on the screen. If the lighting in your room is bright, then the things on your screen are brightly lit. They can even take on complex characteristics like mother-of-pearl or opal…

[But isn’t this very clunky? How’s that going to work in practice?]

The very first haptics-enabled iOS devices we built were iPod Touches with haptic actuators sandwiched between the screen and rest of the device. They were an inch thick and powered by a pack of AA batteries hung on a wire outside the device. They were ridiculous-looking; nothing you would expect to be used in real life. It took many iterations to develop what eventually became Apple’s Taptic Engine. Today, no one would question the elegance of that feature of Apple’s most popular products.

To date, every demo of an environmentally-lit interface has used retrofitted hardware. None of these represent the ideal device capable of an environmentally-lit interface.

«

It’s interesting – the idea that elements on the screen will look as though they’re real and in your environment. And the fact about the Taptic Engine is quite the thing.

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Taking the smarts out of smart TVs would make them more expensive • The Verge

»

Nilay Patel: You guys are committed to low price points and you often beat the industry at those price points. Can you hit those price points without the additional data collection that TV does if you don’t have an ad business or a data business on top of the TV?

Bill Baxter, CTO of TV maker Vizio: So that’s a great question. Actually, we should have a beer and have a long, long chat about that.

So look, it’s not just about data collection. It’s about post-purchase monetization of the TV.

This is a cutthroat industry. It’s a 6-percent margin industry, right? I mean, you know it’s pretty ruthless. You could say it’s self-inflicted, or you could say there’s a greater strategy going on here, and there is. The greater strategy is I really don’t need to make money off of the TV. I need to cover my cost.

And then I need to make money off those TVs. They live in households for 6.9 years — the average lifetime of a Vizio TV is 6.9 years. You would probably be amazed at the number of people come up to me saying, “I love Vizio TVs, I have one” and it’s 11 years old. I’m like, “Dude, that’s not even full HD, that’s 720p.”

…And the reason why we do that is there are ways to monetize that TV and data is one, but not only the only one. It’s sort of like a business of singles and doubles, it’s not home runs, right? You make a little money here, a little money there. You sell some movies, you sell some TV shows, you sell some ads, you know. It’s not really that different than The Verge website.

«

Well, it’s a point of view. Now let’s rewind a couple of years…
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February 2017: VIZIO to pay $2.2m to FTC, state of New Jersey to settle charges it collected viewing histories on 11 million smart televisions without users’ consent • Federal Trade Commission

»

VIZIO, Inc., one of the world’s largest manufacturers and sellers of internet-connected “smart” televisions, has agreed to pay $2.2m to settle charges by the Federal Trade Commission and the Office of the New Jersey Attorney General that it installed software on its TVs to collect viewing data on 11 million consumer TVs without consumers’ knowledge or consent.

The stipulated federal court order requires VIZIO to prominently disclose and obtain affirmative express consent for its data collection and sharing practices, and prohibits misrepresentations about the privacy, security, or confidentiality of consumer information they collect. It also requires the company to delete data collected before March 1, 2016, and to implement a comprehensive data privacy program and biennial assessments of that program.

«

link to this extract


Los Angeles accuses Weather Channel app of covertly mining user data • The New York Times

Jennifer Valentino-DeVries and Natasha Singer:

»

One of the most popular online weather services in the United States, the Weather Channel app has been downloaded more than 100 million times and has 45 million active users monthly.

The government said the Weather Company, the business behind the app, unfairly manipulated users into turning on location tracking by implying that the information would be used only to localize weather reports. Yet the company, which is owned by IBM, also used the data for unrelated commercial purposes, like targeted marketing and analysis for hedge funds, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit accuses the Weather Channel of manipulating users by implying that tracking data would be used only to localize weather reports.

The city’s lawsuit cited an article last month in The New York Times that detailed a sprawling industry of companies that profit from continuously snooping on users’ precise whereabouts. The companies collect location data from smartphone apps to cater to advertisers, stores and investors seeking insights into consumer behavior.

«

Covertly mining user data. Is this better or worse that using your computer to covertly mine cryptocurrency? Discuss.
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Widely cited study of fake news retracted by researchers • Rolling Stone

Lilly Dancyger:

»

The study sought to determine the role of short attention spans and information overload in the spread of fake news. To do this, researchers compared the empirical data from social networking sites that show that fake news is just as likely to be shared as real news — a fact that Filippo Menczer, a professor of informatics and computer science at Indiana University and a co-author of the study, stresses to Rolling Stone is still definitely true — to a simplified model they created of a social media site where they could control for various factors.

Because of an error in processing their findings, their results showed that the simplified model was able to reproduce the real-life numbers, determining that people spread fake news because of their short attention spans and not necessarily, for example, because of foreign bots promoting particular stories. Last spring, the researchers discovered the error when they tried to reproduce their results and found that while attention span and information overload did impact how fake news spread through their model network, they didn’t impact it quite enough to account for the comparative rates at which real and fake news spread in real life. They alerted the journal right away, and the journal deliberated for almost a year whether to issue a correction or a retraction, before finally deciding on Monday to retract the article.

«

Note the “still definitely true” bit. Also, could I just point out: this is Rolling Stone writing an article about the retraction of a peer-reviewed paper from the Nature group. Hello, 2019, how ya feeling.
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Report: AirPower has entered production and coming soon [updated] • MacRumors

Joe Rossignol:

»

Hong Kong website ChargerLAB cites a “credible source” within Apple’s supply chain who claims Chinese manufacturer Luxshare Precision has started production of the AirPower. In a conversation on Chinese messaging app WeChat, the source adds he has heard the AirPower will be released soon…

Luxshare is a member of the Wireless Power Consortium behind the Qi standard and also assembles AirPods for Apple — and Lightning to USB-C cables, according to ChargerLAB. Reports had suggested Luxshare would be a primary supplier of the AirPower since as early as February 2017…

A few weeks ago, developer Steve Troughton-Smith said he’s heard Apple may have overcome technical challenges with the AirPower and could move forward with a release. Those technical challenges included overheating and interference issues, according to Sonny Dickson, an occasional source of Apple leaks.

«

Well, that would be fun. The longest-delayed Apple product finally seeing the light.
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Poland calls for ‘joint’ EU-Nato stance on Huawei after spying arrest • The Guardian

»

Poland’s internal affairs minister, Joachim Brudziński, called for the European Union and Nato to work on a joint position over whether to exclude Huawei from their markets.

Brudziński said Poland wanted to continue cooperating with China but that a discussion was needed on whether to exclude Huawei from some markets.

“There are concerns about Huawei within Nato as well. It would make most sense to have a joint stance, among EU member states and Nato members,” he told broadcaster RMF FM.

“We want relations with China that are good, intensive and attractive for both sides,” he added.

Huawei, the world’s biggest producer of telecommunications equipment, is facing intense scrutiny in the west over its relationship with China’s government.

In August, the US president, Donald Trump, signed a bill that barred the US government from using Huawei equipment and is considering an executive order that would also ban US companies from doing so.

In December, Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada at the request of the US, which wants her extradited to face charges that she misled banks about the company’s business dealings in Iran.

Seeking to distance itself from the Polish incident, Huawei on Saturday said in a statement it had sacked Wang, whose “alleged actions have no relation to the company”.

«

How this (and ZTE’s position) plays out over the rest of this year could be crucial to China’s position in 5G, and the progress of 5G. If this is also applied to Huawei handsets (a faint but real possibility) it would really put a crimp on things. Expect recriminations if that happens.
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Apple’s errors • Stratechery

Ben Thompson, with the only take you need on Apple’s revenue warning at the start of January:

»

to the extent that iPhone XS sales slowed in October, Apple likely expected the iPhone XR to pick up the slack; I strongly suspect the XR failed to live up to expectations.

This too, though, should have been predictable: sure, from a feature perspective the XR seemed remarkably competitive with the XS, but we have ample evidence that iPhone buyers want the best possible iPhone. After this year’s iPhone keynote I wrote:

»

There is, of course, the question of cannibalism: if the XR is so great, why spend $250 more on an XS, or $350 more for the giant XS Max? This is where the iPhone X lesson matters. Last year’s iPhone 8 was a great phone too, with the same A11 processor as the iPhone X, a high quality LCD screen like the iPhone XR, and a premium aluminum-and-glass case (and 3D Touch!). It also had Touch ID and a more familiar interface, both arguably advantages in their own right, and the Plus size that so many people preferred.

«

It didn’t matter: Apple’s best customers, not just those who buy an iPhone every year, but also those whose only two alternatives are “my current once-flagship iPhone” or “the new flagship iPhone” are motivated first-and-foremost by having the best; price is a secondary concern. That is why the iPhone X was the best-selling smartphone, and the iPhone 8 — which launched two months before the iPhone X — a footnote.

It remains to be seen the extent to which this is the case globally, but the market where having the flagship matters most has always been China. iPhone XS sales slowing and not being picked up by the just-launched XR certainly explain the timing of the missed forecast.

«

After Apple delivered its warning, Samsung and then LG followed suit. It’s an economy thing, perhaps. But his point that the “S” updates don’t work in China is well made.
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The paranoid fantasy behind Brexit • The Guardian

Fintan O’Toole:

»

In the imperial imagination, there are only two states: dominant and submissive, coloniser and colonised. This dualism lingers. If England is not an imperial power, it must be the only other thing it can be: a colony. And, as [Len] Deighton successfully demonstrated [in his book SS-GB], this logic can be founded in an alternative English history. The moment of greatest triumph – the defeat of the Nazis – can be reimagined as the moment of greatest humiliation – defeat by the Nazis. The pain of colonisation and defeat can, in the context of uneasy membership of the EU, be imaginatively appropriated. (Boris Johnson, in the Telegraph of 12 November, claimed that “we are on the verge of signing up for something even worse than the current constitutional position. These are the terms that might be enforced on a colony.”)

SS-GB was in part the inspiration for an even more successful English thriller, Robert Harris’s multimillion-selling Fatherland, published in 1992 and filmed for television in 1994. Harris had begun the novel in the mid-1980s but abandoned it. He revived and finished it explicitly in the context of German reunification in 1990 and of fears that the enemy Britain had defeated twice in the 20th century would end the century by dominating it: “If,” Harris wrote in the introduction to the 20th anniversary edition in 2012, “there was one factor that suddenly gave my fantasy of a united Germany a harder edge, it was the news that exactly such an entity was unexpectedly returning to the heart of Europe.”

…Europe’s role in this weird psychodrama is entirely pre-scripted. It does not greatly matter what the European Union is or what it is doing – its function in the plot is to be a more insidious form of nazism. This is important to grasp, because one of the key arguments in mainstream pro-Brexit political and journalistic discourse would be that Britain had to leave because the Europe it had joined was not the Europe it found itself part of in 2016.

«

This is a big week for Brexit, of whatever flavour (hard, soft, revoked) in the UK. This piece is a good backgrounder to the enmity behind one side.
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How cartographers for the US military inadvertently created a house of horrors in South Africa • Gizmodo

Kashmir Hill:

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MaxMind has never told me exactly what their secret sauce is for determining where in the world an IP address is located, but if it doesn’t know that much about an IP address, and knows only that it’s being used by a device somewhere in the United States, it previously gave the coordinates for the front yard of Joyce Taylor’s farm in Kansas; by the time I called her in 2016, 90 million IP addresses were mapped to her home in MaxMind’s database. Any time a device using one of those IP addresses did something terrible, those looking into it assumed the people who lived at the farm were responsible.

When I emailed the company’s founder Thomas Mather, back in 2016, asking why it had associated so many IP addresses with the Kansas farm, he’d been incredibly candid with me, explaining that the company had picked a default digital location for the United States basically at random without realizing it would cause problems for the person who lived there. He asked me what the company should do to rectify the situation. “Do you have a sense of how far away we should locate these lat/lons from a residential address?” he emailed me back. “Do we also need to locate the lat/lon away from business/commercial addresses?”

I was a little stunned at the time to have the CEO of a company ask me for that kind of very basic advice about his own business. The company wound up changing the default location for the U.S. from Joyce Taylor’s farm to a lake nearby. Taylor and the residents of the farm later sued MaxMind; the case settled out of court.

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But it didn’t do it for every one of those locations. Such as, yes, one in South Africa. Hill is gradually picking off every badly-assigned house in the dataset.
link to this extract


Earth’s magnetic field is acting up and geologists don’t know why • Nature

Alexandra Witze:

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Something strange is going on at the top of the world. Earth’s north magnetic pole has been skittering away from Canada and towards Siberia, driven by liquid iron sloshing within the planet’s core. The magnetic pole is moving so quickly that it has forced the world’s geomagnetism experts into a rare move.

On 15 January, they are set to update the World Magnetic Model, which describes the planet’s magnetic field and underlies all modern navigation, from the systems that steer ships at sea to Google Maps on smartphones.

The most recent version of the model came out in 2015 and was supposed to last until 2020 — but the magnetic field is changing so rapidly that researchers have to fix the model now. “The error is increasing all the time,” says Arnaud Chulliat, a geomagnetist at the University of Colorado Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) National Centers for Environmental Information.

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Isn’t this sort of the premise of the 2003 film The Core, which critics noted proved that the centre of the earth is actually cheesy?

Oh, there’s an update: “The release of the World Magnetic Model has been postponed to 30 January due to the ongoing US government shutdown.”
link to this extract


Mark Zuckerberg’s empire of oily rags • Locus Magazine

Cory Doctorow:

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Facebook isn’t a mind-control ray. It’s a tool for finding people who possess uncommon, hard-to-locate traits, whether that’s “person thinking of buying a new refrigerator,” “person with the same rare disease as you,” or “person who might participate in a genocidal pogrom,” and then pitching them on a nice side-by-side or some tiki torches, while showing them social proof of the desirability of their course of action, in the form of other people (or bots) that are doing the same thing, so they feel like they’re part of a crowd.

Even if mind-control rays remain science fiction, Facebook and other commercial surveillance platforms are still worrisome, and not just because they allow people with extreme views to find each other…

…It’s as though Mark Zuckerberg woke up one morning and realized that the oily rags he’d been accumulating in his garage could be refined for an extremely low-grade, low-value crude oil. No one would pay very much for this oil, but there were a lot of oily rags, and provided no one asked him to pay for the inevitable horrific fires that would result from filling the world’s garages with oily rags, he could turn a tidy profit.

A decade later, everything is on fire and we’re trying to tell Zuck and his friends that they’re going to need to pay for the damage and install the kinds of fire-suppression gear that anyone storing oily rags should have invested in from the beginning, and the commercial surveillance industry is absolutely unwilling to contemplate anything of the sort.

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The first point is so apt. The internet joins points at the edge; it’s a way to find people with a common interest. Sometimes that’s good. Sometimes that’s really bad.
link to this extract


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